Friday, December 24, 2010

Bright New Horizons

As Gary pointed out—that I had pointed out—in the previous post, “being a superpower collapse predictor is not a good career choice.” Since then, I have been tossing about in search of better career choice for myself. In this time of high unemployment it is important to think out of the box and look for opportunities to create a new market niche, preferably in a high-wage segment of the economy such as finance, medicine or law.

For a very short while I entertained the notion of establishing a new field of dentistry. Everybody knows of endodontics, periodontics, orthodontics and so forth. I am not a dentist; nevertheless, I thought that I might add one more: scrimshawdontics. I would serve people who desire to have a schooner under full sail scratched into the enamel of one of their upper canines, a likeness of Herman Melville into the other, and, across their upper incisors, a majestic scene of a harpoon boat chasing after a great big whale across storm-tossed seas, men straining at the oars, and, in the bow, a prominent peg-legged figure wielding a harpoon! But I was forced to discard this idea as soon as I realized just how few people would want to spend countless hours in a dentist's chair with their mouth open while I scratch away at their teeth with an etching needle.

And so I have tried to think of another plan, and decided to borrow a page out of Matt Savinar's book. After running a rather popular “doomer” site for some years (the term “doomer” is self-applied in Matt's case; he even referred to himself as a “Juris Doctor of Doom”) Matt decided switch gears and to devote himself entirely to astrology. But the field of astrology seems far too general to me; I want to specialize further, and combine astrology with another discipline, preferably in a high-wage segment of the economy. I also want to use my technical and scientific education and put astrology on a more sound scientific footing by informing it with certain key insights from fields such as astrophysics and information theory. And so here is my new profession: astroeconomist. I will join the ranks of those who profitably combine astrology and economics.

Astrology concerns itself with the relative positions of planets within our solar system and their mysterious effect on the course of human events. But let me ask: Why do planets in this solar system exert greater influence on the course of human events than the planets that orbit all other countless stars within the billions of galaxies that populate the universe? Why is proximity of stellar bodies to us a key factor? This would plausibly be the case if the influence of planetary alignment were known to act through some known physical mechanism whose effect were attenuated by distance, such as the spread of facts of some sort, of the general form “A causes B through mechanism X.” But being unable to attest to the existence of any such X, we are forced to concede that the statement “A causes B” is not a piece of information but, in a strict epistemological sense, the absence of a fact—a statement of ignorance, of the general form “It is not known that A causes B.” Now, while information requires time and energy to propagate through space, and degrades in quality long before that energy becomes diffuse enough to be detectable as single photons, as it does in the vastness of interstellar space, ignorance is not bound by any physical constraints and is in fact instantaneous at all points in the universe. Therefore, we could justifiably assume that it is not just the nearby planets that guide our destinies but all planets in all solar systems in all galaxies, in equal measure.

You are probably used to thinking that the universe is finite; very large, but not infinitely large. However, it may well be the case that the universe is infinitely large, extending infinitely in all directions in both time and space. The leap from very, very big to infinite may seem like a technicality, but it is really a quantum leap, because infinite things have some dramatically different properties from finite ones. For instance, the national debt is very large, but it is not infinite; if it were, the interest on it, for any non-zero rate of interest, would be infinite as well and national default would be instantaneous. Aside from their insidious bigness, infinite things also tend to be infinitely complex, and contain an infinite amount of information. Take, for instance, the transcendental constant π (3.14159265...). It is an infinitely long non-repeating sequence of digits. When calculated with infinite precision, converted to binary and treated as digital data π is guaranteed contain an infinite number of each of the following:
  • A high-quality video of you in flagrante delicto with every other person that ever lived
  • An infinite number of Wikileaks documents containing irrefutable proof that Senator Joseph Lieberman is a Mossad agent, Obama is from the vicinity of the star Betelgeuse, while Dick Cheney is, in some unfathomable fashion, not from but the Crab Nebula itself
  • An infinite number of copies and variants of this very article
More to the point, an infinite universe contains an infinite number of galaxies, stars, and planets, and, it follows, an infinite number of simultaneous planetary alignments. If, as I argue above, all of these alignments, through the force of ignorance, act together in concert irrespectively of distance and time, then the signal conveyed by astrological data is complete randomness: pure, high-grade noise. It is not just any old ignorance but the purest, highest-grade, most reliably fact-free signal imaginable.

And this brings us to astrology's sister discipline, which likewise benefits from purity of ignorance: economics. It is well-known that stocks picked by expert money managers do slightly worse, overall, than stocks picked by monkeys throwing darts. (Good monkey! Here's your bailout!) The reason for this should be obvious: monkeys produce better results because of the superior quality of ignorance that drives their decision-making process. Similarly, economists who struggle with econometric models and statistical data collected by government and industry are sometimes accidentally correct in their predictions, raising expectations and creating false hopes. But if instead economists plugged in the pure nonsense of astrological data averaged across an infinite universe, they could easily achieve a six-sigma rating, being repeatably wrong 99.99966% of the time. And wouldn't that be exciting!? Oh but wait a minute...
Come to think of it, perhaps astroeconomics is not a promising career choice either. Back to square one, then...


Luciddreams said...

why don't you do us all a favor and just write another book? I'd buy a copy.

Jon said...

Dmitry, this sounds like you are describing a state space, which is similar to my argument against the existence of God. An infinite being would be a collection of all that could possibly exist in any and every world throughout infinite time and space. Here and there you find meaning, like the stretch of digits in pi which, when run through an mp3 player, is the latest Justin Beiber song. In no way would a supreme being be said to create anything, since everything already exists in infinite potential. An infinite being is only a representation of everything that was, is and will be, over and over again. No active agency is involved. Creating myths, astrology and free will are more comforting, though.


Anonymous said...

Your readers might want to check out the Post-Autistic economics network, for recovering economists and others who want to join the real world:

How about a reprogrammer for brainwashed members of the neo-classical economics cult?
Supervisor of a prison island for economists where they can be kept safely to prevent social harm?

Happy Holidays.

Phlogiston Água de Beber said...

Dmitry, I think I may have a career choice for you. They used to tell the story around here when I was young about a kid that went door to door selling bags full of what he called smart pills. Obviously, all those economists, many of which live in your region, could use some.

It was said that he enjoyed brisk sales for awhile. Until one of his customers mentioned that he didn't think he was getting any smarter, and because they tasted like sheep turds he wasn't going to buy any more. The boy then assured him that he had indeed gotten smarter.

So there it is, you need only find the home addresses of the local economists and a sheep flock. At their level of ignorance, sales could be brisk for quite a long time. :)

Unknown said...

Astrologers have been misleading stockbrokers for a long time, why not economists too?

eeyores enigma said...

Matt's no dummy. It looks like Astrology just got elevated above economics;

"Principle of astrology proven to be scientific: planetary position imprints biological clocks of mammals"

Dmitry Orlov said...

eeyore -

Their entire explanation of the physical mechanism comes down to the world "holistic." There are no links outside their little "holistic" web site to the research they cite. It's a fluff piece for the true believers.

eeyores enigma said...

Sorry about that. I didn't actually read it. I guess I was just hoping that Matt might be in the right place at the right time for once and really make a killing in order to finance his post apocalypse commune.

lucas said...

Ah, Mr. Orlov- always a pleasure to read you.
No doubt you're aware of J.K. Galbraight's "the only purpose of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable"- thank you so much for elaborating.

DeVaul said...

I have an idea for employing former economists, or at least those who experience a spiritual conversion as they watch their "theories" unravel while a giant albatross (represented by a sack of paper composed of dead trees) hangs around their necks.

That's right. They could become modern day "Ancient Mariners", only there would be tens of thousands of them: standing on street corners, sitting on park benches, camping under overpasses, hitchhiking, and jumping on and off of trains. Yes, they would be everywhere, and thus available to anyone who might pass by.

With a mesmerizing twinkle in their eyes, they would gently take the arm of those who survived and tell them once again the story of how economists almost destroyed the real world, and that economics was neither a science nor a form of divination, but rather a cover to blind people to the fact that greed is NOT good.

Patrick said...

When I saw Matt Savinar carrying on detailed, seemingly serious astrological discussions on his website, I was really surprised. At first I thought he was joking. I found it pretty disturbing when I realized he wasn't. A person I had assumed was both intelligent and rational was, in part, quite delusional.

I think when a culture becomes stressed, and no longer trusts the institutions they were raised to trust, strange things happen. Not only do they look for strong, charismatic despots to give them confidence. They will also look for signs from imaginary, magical figures, or guidance from distant burning balls of gas.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Patrick -

That's an excellent point, after the USSR collapsed, things like astrology and faith-healing went mainstream in Russia. When people no longer trust or can stand to face the facts, they start questing for pseudo-knowledge. Every murky swamp engenders its own local brand of demon to haunt it.

Vronsky said...

Perhaps you could train for the trade invented by Terry Pratchett: Reverse Phrenology. Phrenology claims that the pattern of bumps on your skull is related to various aspects of your character and abilities. This being so, it follows that judicious adjustment of these bumps (using a large hammer) can positively affect your nature and skills.

Looking around, there seems type me to be an all-time high in demand for some such service - and it doesn't seem too far removed from what you do already.

Round Belly said...

I was thinking upon the topic of post apocalyptic careers today- and determined that midwifery would last as long as the human race.

There are other old professions that will make a nice comeback too.

Economists probably were once considered sooth Sayers and wizards that peep and mutter and many ancient cultures use to either admire them or run them out.

And it often seemed as if the leaders of countries would often seek their advice when their downfall was certain- and when the advice would be hearkened too then collapse was almost imminent.

Pangolin said...

When do we finally get to admit that economics is completely fucking insane and there is market saturation for any real definition of "work."

Sure any man-jack can look around him and see streets unswept, fences unmended, gardens gone to thistle and people without proper housing, clothes, food, education, transportation or medical care. It doesn't matter.

TPTB have decided that the new economy will be based upon I-phone "apps," "financial instruments," insurance, franchises and doggy day-care. Which is all well and fine since the whole thing runs on imaginary coin wised into existence on an Apple II in Ben Bernanke's basement.

The reality is that reality has no market share anymore. Everything that follows is social posturing and hand waving.

xbornstubbornx said...

I learned to laugh quietly in order not to wake my wife when I burn my midnight oil. It sounds like I'm choking, but at least, nobodyis disturbed. This time my wife's rest was saved again when I read these lines:
An infinite number of Wikileaks documents containing irrefutable proof that Senator Joseph Lieberman is a Mossad agent, Obama is from the vicinity of the star Betelgeuse, while Dick Cheney is, in some unfathomable fashion, not from but the Crab Nebula itself
An infinite number of copies and variants of this very article
That is exactly the multidimensional kind of world described in Roger Zelazny's "The Chronicles of Amber." Only the members of one family could travel to any possible world just using the power of their imagination, and the Amber was the only true world while everything else beyond it was its reflexion. Thanks for bringing good memories.

Erik said...

My two cents.

Check out the interview today with Max Keiser on Guns and Butter,

"Banks, Bailouts and Manufactured Market Crashes",

DeVaul said...

I really wish people would face reality and stop talking and writing about "free markets" and "market forces" and so forth.

There has not been a "free market" in this country since the fur trade and before the introduction of alcohol to the Indians (which influenced their behavior in the fur trade).

Since the days of direct barter, every market has been owned or controlled or manipulated by someone or many and usually including all of the above, as we see today with high-speed computers executing millions of trades per second according to some kind of mathematical formula based on foreknowledge of impending rules and decisions.

I wish every tree that was cut down to provide paper for economic idiots and "market analysts" could be replaced immediately and every block of coal restored along with the mountaintop that was blown off to get it so that these market clowns could drivel on the internet about things that never existed.

When you read a market analyst, keep in mind you are reading about someone who wants to be rich, but cannot because others stronger than him have locked him out of the profit stream of whatever market he is trying to get into.

My advice is to save your time and your mind and concentrate on things that are real, but have no "value" to economists (a clue that you are on the right path).

Phil Knight said...

Astrology, as with all forms of magic, does work, in that it's simply a mechanism in which social super-ego pressure can be countered with symbolic action which thereby reinforces the individual's capacity for spontaneous social action.

Religion itself is of course simply the abstract representation of society that follows the recognisation and generalisation of "mana" (i.e. social interactive affect) that is idealised in the form of a representative god. As the religion ages, the social origins of its rites and myths are forgotten, and so they are gradually taken more literally, producing an alienating effect.

Both magic and religion are, in the words of Durkheim, "total social facts", and are an inevitable component of the human social realm. Any attempt to suppress them just produces pseudo-religions e.g. Marxism, Neoliberalism, Transhumanism etc.

As such, religion, contrary to what most people think, isn't primarily about believing in God, and magic isn't primarily about believing in the paranormal. This is why most contemporary atheistic attacks on both of them as "superstition" are simply incorrect. They are both key elements in the respective formation of the social sphere and of the individual.

Please see the following books for more detail:

Emile Durkheim "The Elementary Forms of Religion"

Marcel Mauss "Oeuvres"

Hubert & Mauss "A General Theory of Magic"

Jane Harrison "Themis"

Bronislaw Malinowski "The Foundations of Faith and Morals"

E.E. Evans-Pritchard "Nuer Religion"

Unknown said...

"That is exactly the multidimensional kind of world described in Roger Zelazny's 'The Chronicles of Amber.' "

Or Borges' "Library of Babel."

Unknown said...

"When people no longer trust or can stand to face the facts, they start questing for pseudo-knowledge."

Telling knowledge from pseudo-knowledge is fascinating but not easy. One of the reasons I like the history (not the practice) of astrology is that it's gone in and out of respectability several times in it's 2500 years.

Unknown said...

"a prison island for economists where they can be kept safely to prevent social harm"

Send'em to Monster Island, to discuss things with Godzilla, Rhodan, Gamera, et al.

Patrick said...

Yes, unfortunately, magic & religion are probably an "inevitable component of the human social realm" as Phil Knight writes above. Why should that be so? For some insight, read Carl Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World" and Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things."

Nevertheless, I think it's important to resist these natural tendencies.

Voltaire wrote, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Evidence for this statement can be found in the news every day, as groups engaged in bloody, hateful encounters are identified solely by their religious affiliations.

Jon said...

Hey Kollapsnik,

Arch Crawford beat to the astrology-economics punch years ago. Funny thing is, his newsletter is one of the most accurate ones available inre: market timing.

Jon said...

Phil, ‘Total social facts’ is an interesting phrase, but not concise enough. I like the term, ‘The lie we live by’, but that doesn’t quite do it, either. It’s a nice phrase, but really doesn’t quite capture the parts and pieces of our cultural existence in a neat, easy to remember word. Well, plus it focuses on the negative aspect of cultural self-hypnosis. And it’s bad grammar, too. I’ve been trying to come up with a simple phrase that would be like pixels (picture elements) in graphics. Social elements might do. That would be ‘socels’ (pronounced Sosh-els) but that sounds like places you go to meet guys/girls. Cultural elements (cultels) is even worse. Oh, well. No one said wordsmithing was easy.

I think you are right that the debate for/against the existence of god misses the point. The point is not whether something is true or not, but whether people believe it or not. If shared beliefs cause communities of people to come together, work and share together, tolerate each other’s quirks together, raise barns and harvest crops together and raise their children together, then that belief system, whether true or not, can be said to be efficacious. Efficacious-els? God, that’s the worst one yet.


Phil Knight said...


Yes you're right about belief vs. truth. This is something that Geza Roheim expressed in "Magic and Schizophrenia" (also Wilhelm Stekel in "Compulsion and Doubt") - that all human thought is basically magical in that it creates models of behaviour in the mind for analysis prior to action in the real world. Really there's no such thing as "rational" or "objective" thought - all human thought is to some extent delusional. If we were genuinely "realistic" about our possibilities we'd still be living in caves.

Most magic can be explained psycho-socially. It's easy for example to create a model for astrology in which what the astrologer is actually doing is teasing out latent or repressed desires or wishes from their client, and then presenting them back as self-fulfilling prophecies. Human beings are very suggestible, so if the astrologer says "you will find yourself making more effort in your social life" or "you will find yourself going on a long journey" it is easy to see that they are being prompted to actually happen. I'm not saying that there aren't genuine paranormal aspects to astrology (who knows?) but it can certainly "work" effectively without them.

The underlying point is that social super-ego pressure is far more effective in promoting external action than the rather weak ego-pressure that can be generated by individuals themselves. Magic is a sort of trick way of using super-ego pressure in the service of the individual.

Most people in the modern West, with its cult of individualism and "rationality" don't understand the dual nature of the human mind (social and personal), and that that the social side is by far the stronger component, and so they don't understand either the purpose or the effects of either religion or magic.

Dmitry Orlov said...

This blog is not about magical thinking, just the regular kind. I only brought up astrology as something to poke fun at, but, as with so many things, once you drop the word, you open the floodgates to all sorts of nonsense. And so I am shutting down this thread, and will never mention astrology again.